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One of the biggest storylines of the 2022-23 Chicago Blackhawks season will be the progression of top prospect Lukas Reichel. We will have to wait to track that progress at the NHL level as the team announced the 20-year-old forward was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League (AHL).
Reichel wasn’t the only one switching over to the AHL training camp this morning, as forwards Cole Guttman, Michal Teply, Josiah Slavin, and defenseman Isaak Phillips were also reassigned to the IceHogs. Forwards David Gust and Kale Howarth were released from their professional tryouts (PTO) and were returned to the AHL.
There is no doubt that Reichel is one of the best 12 forwards in training camp. However, the Blackhawks are obviously in no rush to keep him in the NHL. The organization’s mindset is that they want him to stay here and be a significant contributor when he is called up to Chicago. They don’t want him to go back and forth down I-90 or play a bottom-six role when he is here.
We aren’t used to the franchise taking their time with development. Former general manager Stan Bowman was notorious for rushing young players to the league and giving up on them far too early. Kyle Davidson is taking the opposite approach and will let the prospects take their time to get to this level. In a season where wins and losses don’t matter at the NHL level, there is no reason to put any young player in a position to fail if they don’t have to.
Reichel had a very successful first season of professional hockey in North America. He had 21 goals and 57 points in 56 AHL games. His offensive production did not translate to the NHL, as he had just one assist in 11 contests with the Blackhawks.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews never had to get the news about being demoted to the AHL in his career. However, he is sure that Reichel will be a very good player and agrees with the patient approach the team is taking.
“You know he’s going to be a high-end talent,” he said. “He is going to be successful if he is allowed to go out there and play with creativity on offense. For a guy like him, with his skill set and size, I don’t think there is really any question. Just let him play his way, develop his game, and get confidence because we know what kind of player he can be at this level.”
Head coach Luke Richardson has been working with Reichel, showing him video of plays to help him become a more complete player. There is a lot more than just scoring goals for a young player to do to remain in the lineup.
“You can’t turn the puck over as a skilled player in this league; it’s going to be in your net or in your zone for 30 seconds,” Richardson said after practice. “Instead of a guy like that staying here and battling to stay in the lineup on a fourth-line role, go down and be the best center down there. Work at your game, get harder in your one-on-one battles, manage the puck, and light it up down there. So, when you get a chance here, you’re firing on all cylinders, and you’ll show your best.”
The IceHogs are thrilled to have their leading scoring back to start the season. Their roster has been built to be a serious Calder Cup contender. Davidson is trying to set up a winning culture throughout the organization. Having your young players in the AHL win early in their professional careers is a good thing, as is getting Reichel more time with a winning team before dealing with the hard times ahead with the rebuilding Blackhawks. As we saw with Kirby Dach, confidence can make or break a young prospect. It is obvious that Davidson will not repeat the mistakes of his predecessor.
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